In Part 1 of this post, which was published yesterday, I raised the subject of the misinformation which is spread daily on the Internet, as well as in magazines and advertisements, and mentioned two of what I consider to be the biggest offenders. They are probably not significantly worse than many others out there, but because they have been so widely quoted, they are now regarded by many people as ‘authorities’ on the subjects of what is good and bad for you.
The first of these is Skin Deep, which is a cosmetics database run by the Environmental Working Group, which lists 66,000 ingredients and assigns a rating for each between 0 and 10, with a lower score being better than a high one. This sounds great on the surface, but the problem is in how they assign their scores, which has no basis in logical assessment, and is also completely inconsistent.
Their rankings are based on a dual rating system which comprises a Hazard (Concern) Rating and a Data Availability Rating. I’m going to link to a couple of posts that explain things far better than I could ever hope to, but the problems that I see are as follows:
They are using a Hazard rating, but not a Risk rating. For example, if there is a pothole on your street corner, that represents a hazard, which could seriously injure you. However, if you always drive past that corner and never walk, then your actual risk of stepping in that pothole is zero, so it doesn’t really present much of a hazard. The Skin Deep database takes into account every possible hazard, but never takes the actual ‘real life’ risk into account in their assessment.
However, the thing that really worries me is their Data Availabilty Rating. Under each score, you will see a notation as to the amount of data compiled on the ingredient, such as Poor, Fair, or Limited. The one that really causes the problem is None. As an example, search ‘paraben’ in the database, and you will find two pages of results, most with rankings between 4 and 7 based on Fair to Limited Data. Then you will see 9 parabens listed with rankings between 0 and 2, based on Data:None. Think about this for a minute….they are assigning a safety rating to this ingredient based on NO INFORMATION! They might just as well pull numbers out of a hat! To be clear, ratings between 0 and 2 are ‘green’ ratings, which means that Skin Deep has assessed them as safe for you and your family to use, but in many cases, they have made this assessment based on nothing.
If you are stating that it is your “mission….to use information to protect human health”, then you have no business assigning a favourable rating to an ingredient you know nothing about. It should either be excluded, or be assigned a big red 10, and a comment to use at your own risk because there is not enough known about the ingredient.
The danger is that Skin Deep has become so well known as the people’s watchdog, that some companies are now checking the list of ingredients and making choices for their products from those that have been given favourable ratings, just to insure a thumbs up from Skin Deep. That would be fantastic, if all of those favourable ratings were based on actual data, but in choosing an ingredient with a favourable rating based on NO data, they could very well be choosing the next thalidomide.
There have been many eloquent posts on the pitfalls of Skin Deep and the EWG. Two particularly good ones are Robert Tisserand’s post on the flaws in their assessments of essential oils, which you can find here. I’ll warn you, this is a lengthy article, and he doesn’t get to Skin Deep until about two thirds of the way through, but the article is an excellent analysis of the confusion surrounding fragrance in cosmetics, and well worth the read.
The second article is done by Personal Care, and you can find it here.
Do yourself a favour, Google EWG, and don’t stop with the first couple of hits. In order to get past all of the glowing endorsements and see the other side of the story, search “Environmental Working Group + criticism”, and sit down for a read.
Okay, moving on to Livestrong. Like many of you, I have occasionally seen an article from Livestrong pop up in my daily wanderings online and not given too much thought or credence to their musings, until last week a post on Robert Tisserand’s Facebook page caught my eye. He referred to a 2011 article as “mostly nonsense”, which prompted me to do a little exploring on his website, where I found this blog post on Essential Oils and Eye Safety, which he was inspired to write after another article on Livestrong caught his eye. Pretty scary stuff. If this kind of misinformation and unsafe advice is being put out on essential oils, why would I think it would be any different for sunscreens, or vitamins?
The problem for me with Livestrong is that they are gathering and disseminating information to fill space for their subscribers, and to catch the attention of new readers. This puts them in the same category as a newspaper or magazine, needing to fill their pages with content to attract readers which attracts advertisers. The question is: how much fact checking is being done when new articles must be pumped out daily to keep the site fresh and active? So for me, if EWG has a big, red flashing light attached to it, Livestrong has a big yellow caution light…just because it is associated with a foundation that provides support for people fighting cancer, does not mean that it can be relied on for accurate information.
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but my mantra when it comes to the information, or more accurately, data that I am flooded with every day on the Internet, in magazines, on TV, even on billboards, is ‘Question Everything’. It’s easier to let someone else do the legwork for you, but it’s you and your family that are affected by what you put in and on your body. Take responsibility.
Okay, it’s not fair for me to give you a list of places you shouldn’t go to for information without giving you some alternatives, so here are two sites to take a look at. NOTE: Just because I am recommending these sites, does not mean you should accept everything on these sites as gospel. The same rules apply….question everything!
Robert Tisserand – the “godfather” of aromatherapy in North America, a valuable site for anything to do with essential oils
Personal Care, Information Based on Scientific Fact – this site has just been recommended to me. What I like about it at first glance is that the articles are submitted by a panel of independent experts, and their conclusions appear to be based on concrete data, not sensationalism and scaremongering. Check back in the future for my comments, once I’ve had a chance to check it out more thoroughly.
I also really enjoy anything that Dr. Joe Schwarcz writes about. Dr. Schwarcz is a PhD in chemistry, is a Professor at McGill University in Montreal, and has a very low tolerance for what he calls “quackery” and misinformation. A very bright, articulate man who writes with passion and humor.
Ok, I’ve bored you enough for today! Go forth and question!
PS: If you like the cute little picture at the top of my post, I found this at Robin’s Edge, where you can find lots of helpful info on marketing with social media among other interesting stuff. Check her out!